Frugal Retirement Travel-Riding the Rails?

It might come as a surprise, but there are many ways to enjoy a frugal retirement travel experience without breaking the bank. In fact, there are several inexpensive and fun ways to get around by rail, including riding the rails as a way to see the country. Whether you’re a first-time rail traveler or an experienced traveler looking for an affordable and unique way to see the country, we’ve got several tips to help make your experience a success.

Most of my travel experiences are done on the road these days. By this I mean that I drive from destination to destination, but enjoy the drive itself and the experiences on the way. Unlike many of my fellow bloggers I choose to drive rather than RV, and there are a few reasons for that. I don’t want to be responsible as a single person for maintaining such a vehicle on any level. I enjoy driving along the open road at reasonable speeds (yes, I’m the girl who passes you on the left going eighty, it’s who I am). Finally, I prefer to be in the middle of a town once I arrive, park my car and walk for two days.  This is true whether it’s a small gulf coast town or a city.  I rarely fly these days, unless it is a place such as the northern eastern seaboard (a separate topic in and of itself)!

Frugal Retirement Travel

I enjoy road travel for a variety of reasons.  Car travel allows me to start and stop as I see fit, to take side trips as the mood strikes.  Some travelers pick a series of destinations and drive from point to point. I do that, but may veer off the road if something interesting arises. If I see a lovely place to stay, I may cancel reservations and stop earlier.  I can (if I choose) take the canine family members with me on road trips.  Road tripping can be as expensive or inexpensive as one makes it, within reason. Overall it’s a cost expensive way to see many things in a certain amount of time. Sometimes my road trip is part of a large end destination and sometimes the trip is its own reward (such as my gulf coast trip).

Frugal Retirement Travel

Recently I’ve been investigating train travel here in the US. In Germany, approximately one third to one half of our vacations from Frankfurt were taken by train. We’ve taken train trips up and down both the Rhine and Mosel Rivers ending in Trier.  We took the ultimate speed train to Berlin.  We took trains through the Alps  to Venice and then Florence.  So I figured it was time to look at train travel here.

Frugal Retirement Travel

Specifically, I have been looking at a train called the Zephyr that travels from Chicago to San Francisco. In my case I would board the train in Denver.  This train then travels through some of the most beautiful parts of the US-the Colorado mountains, Utah and California including the Sierra Nevada. It passes through towns such as Glenwood Springs, Salt Lake City, Reno and others on the way.

Train travel, especially this route, interests me on many levels.  Almost all of this trip has stunning views.  When one drives, one has to pay attention the road, pesky thing.  Yes, there are views, and yes, one can stop at “scenic points”.  In a train trip, one can be immersed in the scenery-and still hop off at interesting destinations.  Almost all of the cities on my route, including San Francisco, can be enjoyed without my car once I arrive-walking and public transportation will allow me to see plenty!  This route is a perfect way to check out train travel.

Frugal Retirement Travel
Frugal Retirement Travel

As with any kind of travel comparison, there are ups and downs.  In this case, with particular route, I would probably end up take the same train on my return.  I would resolve this dilemma by choosing different places to hop off in one direction, or else riding the rails straight through one way and making stops the other way.  The only alternative for me to take an alternate route is to go south and end up in San Antonio and still have to get my home it would seem. If I drove, I would take one interstate to the coast and another one home.  That said, the “interesting places” on interstate 70 in Utah are few and far between-too south for some and too north for others. So that comparison seems pretty even. Sorry folks, but the Amtrack photos are stock and not the best!

While I adore road tripping, and still do it as a single person, on occasions it can become extremely solitary, especially if the dogs are not along for the ride.  Not solitary enough for me to stop traveling, as I love it, but an alternative for one trip might be interesting.  My roomette/sleeper car would have room for two (whether there would be two, I do not know) and meals (part of the freight) would be taken in the lounge car or dining car.  On the other hand, the dogs would have to stay with family on this trip.

Frugal Retirement Travel
Frugal Retirement Travel

The final comparison is, of course, the finances.  On the surface (and being realistic) train travel is probably not as cheap. However, when one compares all the costs, the difference gets  much smaller and needs to take into account those intangibles above. “Guestimating” at dates and getting approximate costs reveals the following:  a reserved coach seat in a regular car (that reclines and has foot rests) costs around $500.00 round trip.  Food (my own or dining) would be extra. A “roomette” for two people with seats that would turn into beds would add $500 each way-and all food and non alcohol costs would be included as part of the fare.  Obviously the seating would depend on my route-for this particular comparison I will say that I would use the roomette one way take a coach the other way when I am stopping. That makes my total cost one thousand dollars before taxes-and my food costs free one way.

This trip is 2400 miles on mainly mountainous interestates. I have a large tank and just under 300 miles on flat roads cruising at sixty to seventy.  I figure $600 for gas and so on depending on roads and would hope to come in under.  I would also anticipate three extra hotel rooms. For example, the train comes into Reno at nine am Monday and I would catch the train the next day. Were I driving of course, I would arrive  by dusk on Sunday and leave Tuesday morning.  While I aim for $100 in hotels per night, to be safe I would allow an extra $450 here.  Finally of course, there is the food issue. While I do take food with me in the car(a major advantage of driving), I also occasionally eat out in the evening. The food costs are still under investigation-obviously I have the costs of food I bring in the car. Is it worth the extra money for free food in a lounge car? I’m still working on this one. 

Finally, there is that “intangible cost” of wear and tear on my car.  For my own benefit, when comparing types of travel, I use the government mileage standard. This is not necessarily out of pocket money-but extra maintenance on my car is a cost of road trip travel.

All and all, I don’t see the difference in cost as prohibitive and I see this as a one time (perhaps to be repeated elsewhere) experience. It’s time to start making firmer plans-checking lowest prices, choosing dates, looking for deals and discounts and tours in San Francisco. Right now this trip is planned for early fall (I have a trip to New Mexico and Texas planned during the summer), so I have plenty of the to get the “best deals”.

Frugal Retirement Travel
Frugal Retirement Travel

Meanwhile I would love to hear your opinion. I would be making at least two stops total along the way, and I am a gal who can sleep sitting up in a recliner if I am tired. Would you spend the extra money for the private room?  Both ways?  I’ll say here that I would still probably sleep sitting up, but the knowledge that I was in a room for two with no children and someone else who wanted quiet (I can always go to the lounge car to socialize) is a huge temptation.  Worth the cost?  What say you?  Have you ever traveled in this country by train?

Long-term travel is the dream of many people. You can now enjoy a budget trip around the world just by putting some effort into your finances. Frugal retirement travelers know that they don’t have to spend every cent to see new places and make memories in life. Being smart with their finances, these folks are still able to experience amazing adventures while also enjoying an extravagant lifestyle at the same time!

Do you dream of traveling but believe you cannot afford it? We want to hear from you! Share your stories about how you made it possible and what obstacles did you face along the way?

Frequently Asked Questions

Why you shouldnt wait until retirement to travel?

The price could increase. For older travellers, travel insurance is more expensive due to a higher chance of health issues. Additionally, as you age, you’ll probably start to demand more conveniences, and these all add up. It is more challenging to compromise on certain ideals when you begin travelling later in life.

How can I travel cheap after retirement?

According to Mackin, renting a home is a practical and comfortable mode of transportation for retirees. Since many vacation rental companies, like Airbnb, offer monthly discounts for lengthy bookings, you can also travel more slowly and stay longer.

How much should a retired person have in cash?

Despite having access to retirement accounts, many financial experts advise retirees to keep six to twelve months’ worth of living expenses in cash on hand. Even three years’ worth of living expenses should be kept in cash, according to some.

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